“Mommy, I need a cuddle,” he calls out in his 6-year-old voice.
He’s cold; he needs a cuddle. He’s hungry; he needs a cuddle. He misses me; he needs a cuddle. And so I stop. I stop whatever I’m doing and pull him into my lap, wrapping my limbs around his body, breathing in his little-boy shampoo on top of his little-boy head, hoping that if I really pay attention then maybe, just maybe, I won’t miss it so much when it’s gone.
Because I know it’s coming. I hear it whistling like a sad distant train, headed my way. It’s the sound of his sweet voice transforming into something unrecognizably deep, and the sound of his prickly cheeks sweeping against my hand. It’s the sound of heart-crushing silence, as no one in the house is hollering for a cuddle.
I’ve been through enough firsts and lasts to know what’s coming next. One day he won’t need the safety of my arms; he won’t need my heart pressed against his ear. One day he’ll ask for a cuddle, and it will be the last time I hear those words.
He’s straddling a line; we both are. Most of his neighborhood friends are a little older — ranging from 3rd to 6th grade — and so I clearly see who he’ll morph into, and in a blink. It’s hard to stay too deluded when you regularly have boys clomping around your house in shoes that could fit a grown man, with iPod Touches dinging in their pockets, with no cries for a mama’s hug. Right now, I can still kiss my boy’s face in front of his friends, and all I get is a toothless smile and a smooch right back. But one day, one day soon, his eyes will widen into a “Please don’t kiss me in front of them” message, and I’ll hear it.
That train, I can hear its song. It’s coming.
I don’t carry his body in my arms like I used to, but when I do — when I heave his body up on my hip, and I see the way his feet fall past my knees, remembering how they used to curl into my ribs a few short blinks ago, I know that will end, too. I know that one day I will put him down and never pick him up again.
And it’ll be sooner than I think.
One day the train will come roaring past me, sweeping away the kisses and cuddles and holding. Ending the tenderness of the early years of motherhood, which, after six years, are largely behind me already. He used to feed from my body, until he suddenly didn’t. He used to need me to rock him to sleep, and then one day I laid his limp, sleeping body down for a nap, as I had hundreds of times, not realizing I’d never lull him to sleep, not ever again.
I guess that’s the sad part of the “lasts;” we often don’t know they’re here, even while they’re happening.
Soon he’ll be too big, too cool, too heavy — just as he’s meant to, because little boys grow into men, and us moms knew the deal from the jump.
But maybe if we’re lucky, we’ll be left with an imprint of the “lasts.” The last time his sticky fingers wrap around my hair in a make-me-feel-better hug. The last dandelion he proudly picks for me. The last time he collapses into heaving laughs under my tickles, and I hear that unhinged laughter in that little-boy octave. The last time he wakes me up with his milky morning-breath kisses. The last time he calls out for a cuddle, and needs it like he needs air to breathe.
The good thing about entering the territory of “lasts” — if there’s good to be found — is that it forces me to pay attention, to show up. Because I never know when it might be the last time.
And oh, how I’ll miss those cuddles.